I need to visit Tallinn again. I had grand plans when it came to visiting the Baltic countries, originally intending to spend close to six weeks exploring them. But as my Eastern European travels progressed, I happened to be in Budapest by the time I had intended to be much farther north. However, I had to go back to the US for a short period and the only place where I could fly out of was Estonia’s capital.
I found myself in something of a conflicted mindset upon my arrival in Tallinn. I wasn’t quite ready to end my travels and I was filled with bittersweet feelings during my short time and ended up leaving with a mixed impression of the city.
My visit to Tallinn didn’t get off to the best of starts — due to an incredibly short time to get on a connecting flight, my bag didn’t make it on the plane and I was stuck in the same outfit and little else for the majority of my stay in the city. I tried not to let this get me down, however, as I was confident that my bag would be returned to me and I could handle one day in the same clothes.
As I hopped on the bus to the city centre — a refreshingly short and easy trip on bus #2, which departs right in front of the main airport terminal and takes you directly to the old town — I felt the excitement of exploration waft over me once more. It was evening as I walked through the delightful Old Town en route to my hostel and I was pleasantly impressed by the lack of tourist crowds, even as the sun steadfastly refused to set in the late June sky.
There are many ways that travellers arrive when they visit Tallinn, and all ports of entry are easily connected by public transport. There are direct bus or tram connections to the Old Town from both the ferry terminal and bus station. It is also very easy to visit Tallinn from most other big cities in the vicinity, with direct ferry connections from Helsinki, and direct buses from both Vilnius in Lithuania and the Latvian capital of Riga.
I was fairly tired by the time I checked into my hostel in Tallinn so, apart from a brief stroll to find some dinner, I didn’t do much exploring that first night. I did, however, enjoy the picture-perfect medieval streets as I ate a humble dinner in the park while enjoying the abundant sunshine of the Baltic summer.
It never got properly dark when I was in Tallinn and due to this fact, I rose quite early. I absolutely love exploring cities in the early morning, before everything comes alive. The pure beauty of Tallinn was evident as I strolled through the empty cobbled lanes and I felt quite privileged to essentially have them to myself.
When exploring a new city, my first move is always to find a free walking tour so I can get a good overview of the city from a local’s point of view. Luckily, there are a number of tours available and I chose to go on Tallinn Free Walking Tour‘s 10AM general walk. This tour takes travellers all around the main sites of the city and I highly recommend it to anyone when they visit Tallinn. They also have groups leaving at 12PM and 3PM throughout the summer so you need not get as early a start as I did!
After the tour, though, was when my opinion of Tallinn began to change. Ignorantly, I was not aware that Estonia’s capital was a major cruise ship port and that the lack of crowds in the morning and previous evening were not reflective on what the city looks like by day. Due to the fact that no fewer than five ships were docked in Tallinn’s port, as midday rolled around the Old Town became flooded with eager day-trippers.
And Tallinn has responded to this massive influx of tourists. The Old Town was no longer the charming city centre that I had enjoyed just a few hours previously, but became filled with kitschy souvenir stands and locals dressed in medieval garb intent on luring tourists into their overpriced restaurants.
This took away Tallinn’s charms for me, and I found it hard to explore further when there were so many people crowding all of the city’s most beautiful attractions. The streets of the Old Town were no longer charming and picturesque, but claustrophobic. I felt like I was in a massive tourist trap disguised as a city. I lost my desire to explore after experiencing the crowds and I wish I hadn’t because there are many historical and interesting things to see and do when you visit Tallinn.
I only had one full day to spend in Tallinn, but I wish I had more. I intend to go back someday, maybe in off-peak tourist season, and experience Estonia’s capital through different eyes. I am also keen to explore more of Estonia beyond Tallinn and I hope I get to some time in the future.
Have you had a chance to visit Tallinn? What were your thoughts on the city? Let us know in the comments!